I really should set an alarm, I thought to myself. You know, just in case…Of course, I passed out before I had the chance to set one and awoke with a start.
What year was this?! More importantly, what century? Definitely the 21st. I could tell because of all the messages lighting up my phone. And cellphones definitely weren’t a thing before this millennium.
It was Grace! She was at Starbucks! I pounded down the stairs to collect Emma, who’d left the bar and wandered off to Borough Market. We met just outside the hostel.
“How was your nap?”
“Refreshing as fuck. How was the market?”
“Did you know Harry Potter was filmed there?”
“Yes,” I said proudly. “I listened in on a tourist group. They said so.” As we approached the coffee shop, I felt my pulse rising. “Okay, so get this,” I told Emma. She raised a questioning eyebrow.
“The girl we’re about to meet – Grace – we were online pen pals for about four years. We’ve never met in person. How’s that for crazy?” Emma affirmed that it was indeed crazy.
There was Starbucks. There was Grace! I recognized her instantly. I waved at her through the glass and then swarmed upon her and crushed her in a hug. “Oh my God! You’re real!”
Life had gotten too busy to compose novels to each other on the regular. Grace and I had stopped writing to each other a few years ago, while I was still in college. In other words, it wasn’t just Emma and I who were overdue for a catch-up. The three of us headed off for a drink. I ordered an apple pie and it tasted just as good as it sounds, I promise you. It cost €10, which was less sweet.
Our next stop? King’s Cross. Um, yeah, THAT one.
I could not stop saying “oh my god oh my god oh my god” and “are we there yet are we there yet are we there yet” to Grace and Emma, as we headed straight for the fictional platform of my favorite childhood book series. Although I was not the youngest of the group, I definitely became so in the moments leading up to the event.
“There it is! There it is! What house are you guys? I always thought I was a Ravenclaw but then I briefly felt like I could be a Hufflepuff so I’m torn… Anyway my dress has blue in it so Ravenclaw would probably be a better choice right? What’s your favorite book in the series? You’ve read the books right? Please say you have. It makes my soul die a little bit when someone’s only seen the movies and thinks that’s acceptable…” I give so much credit to both Emma and Grace for being patient as saints and not getting exasperated with my endless excitement. The wait was about forty-five minutes.
When we finally arrived at the front of the queue and I had received my beautiful blue Ravenclaw scarf, the attendant looked expectantly at my two scarf-less friends. “We’re good,” said Grace. “This is her moment. We’re just taking the pictures.”
The attendant’s gaze shifted to me and, with wide eyes and hushed tones, she said: “You’ve brought Muggles. You could go to Azkaban for this.”
“Hey now, that’s fine. I would just hang out with Sirius Black.”
“He got out a while ago…”
“Oh. Well. There’s always Bellatrix, right?”
“She’s dead,” said the attendant.
As I walked up to the trolley, the attendant turned to address the queue. “We’ve got a witch who is very excited to be here!” I howled and the crowd howled back. The camera went off. My inner child was satisfied.
“I still can’t believe she called you guys out like that,” I said to Grace and Emma, laughing, as we inspected the gift shop next door. “Muggles!”
“You need to work there, Rachel,” Grace told me. Emma nodded vehemently.
“I can’t argue with that,” I said with a shrug.
Sadly we couldn’t dwell in fantasy forever. My lovely pen pal had to get back to her grown-up life. Emma and I saw her off to the train station.
“I am so, so happy I got to meet you, Grace,” I said, squeezing her tightly. “Seriously – this was so much fun. Let’s be pen pals again?”
Grace laughed and agreed. We hugged and exchanged contact info and waved goodbye, and just like that, she was off!
I turned to Emma. “Now what?”
Well, there’s your answer. In all seriousness, we did have a plan. Emma and I were off to her Majesty’s official residence: Buckingham Palace. And I was distracted by about half a dozen telephone boxes along the way. It wasn’t my fault they were everywhere!
“Oh my God. It’s one of those little guys in the hats!!!” I nearly died. I know he has a serious job to do, guarding the palace of the Queen of England but I’m sorry that he looked like he could also be guarding the Nutcracker.
The London marathon was happening tomorrow and a leg of it was taking place surrounding Buckingham Palace. Seeing as it was the evening before the big race, there were quite a few sections set up, blocked off, ropes up, and television crew booths scattered around.
If the Queen is in residence at “the office,” as she calls it, she flies her very own personal flag. Sadly the Union Jack was up, meaning her Majesty was not around. We’d done quite a bit of exploring for one day – from Platform 9 and 3/4 to an actual palace – not too bad for a girl running on Seattle jetlag and three hours of sleep. But it was getting late, and I think Emma could sense that I was running low on energy, so we headed back for the hostel.
We happened upon this bus on our walk back. My dad’s name is Lew. “I bet you didn’t know you have a bus in England – and a pig!” I so comically texted to him along with this picture.
We had dinner and drinks down at the bar in the hostel and watched the opening of the football (soccer) match of Seville VS Barcelona. “Alright,” I said to Emma, picking at the remains of my French fries, “let’s have a power nap and then meet up around 10:30ish and go out and party? Deal?”
Arising from my third nap of the day was a more difficult challenge than I could have foreseen. But I survived, splashed on makeup, strapped on heels, and met Emma downstairs.
Paul from New York had recommended a nightclub called Fabric – “I’ll be there. They have CO2 cannons. You should go” – to the point as always. Good old Paul. But after Google Maps revealed that Fabric was a whopping 1.5 miles away, we decided against it, in favor of London One, which turned out to be much closer, but much shittier.
Entrance was €10. The bouncer patted us down within an inch of our lives. There were two levels. The top level featured pool tables and social awkwardness. The bottom level was meant to be for dancing. And don’t get me wrong, people were dancing. I just wasn’t feeling it, and neither was Emma.
I downed a vodka cranberry in hopes that it would improve the scene. Sadly, the music remained shitty. “We paid to be here,” I said to Emma. “Let’s at least try to enjoy it?” No sooner had I uttered those words than the screens were overtaken by bouncing semi-naked women and thrusting cartoon lizards. I made an executive decision. “Okay, screw it – let’s go.”
We left the club to pouring rain and lightning cracking the sky in half. We had five blocks to the hostel and no jackets. Well, Emma had a jacket. “Welcome to London!” she said as I screamed and attempted (unsuccessfully) to shield myself with my arms. I was soaked through within seconds. Of course, by the time we got back to the hostel, the downpour had subsided into a very tame drizzle.
Welcome to London.